‘Crackers’ (recordings of joints cracking)

April 29th, 2016

crackers7Circa 1997, Professor Christof Migone (now at Western University, Ontario, Canada) placed an ad. in a local Ottawa newspaper requesting anyone with ‘cracking’ joints (fingers, neck, back, etc etc) to participate in an audio recording session. The Ottawa based Gallery 101 was about to host an exhibition called ‘Incredibly Soft Sounds’ in January 1998, which featured the professor’s recordings under the title ‘Crackers’. Audio files of various ‘Crackers’ recordings can be found here. Or, if you prefer the sound, look and feel of a CD (over .mp3) a selection of Crackers recordings are also available on polycarbonate [no vinyl as yet].

Note: The 2009 Ig Nobel Medicine Prize was awarded to Donald L. Unger, of Thousand Oaks, California, USA, for investigating a possible cause of arthritis of the fingers, by diligently cracking the knuckles of his left hand — but never cracking the knuckles of his right hand — every day for more than sixty (60) years.

False ‘missing toe’ sensation(s) [digital agnosia]

April 28th, 2016

Do you ever get an uncanny feeling that one of your toes is missing, despite the fact that they’re all there? You’re not alone.

“To the best of our knowledge, the present study is the first to document the [erroneous] experience of a ‘missing toe’ in healthy volunteers.”

Toes-missing“Nineteen young adult participants underwent tactile stimulation of the digits [toes] with the eyes closed and verbally reported the identity of the stimulated digit. In the majority of individuals, responses to the second and third toes were significantly biased toward the laterally neighboring digit. The directional bias was greater for the nondominant foot and was affected by the identity of the immediately preceding stimulated toe. Unexpectedly, 9/19 participants reported the subjective experience of a ‘missing toe’ or ‘missing space’ during the protocol.”

Note: “9/19” in this context is taken to mean nine-out-of-ninteen, or, if you prefer, nine-nineteenths (rather than nine-divided-by nineteen) that’s to say, roughly equivalent to 47%.

See: Tactile Toe Agnosia and Percept of a ‘‘Missing Toe’’ in Healthy Humans  in: Perception, 2016, Vol. 45(3) 265–280. Authors: Nela Cicmil (Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics, University of Oxford,UK and The Medical School, University of Oxford, John Radcliffe Hospital, UK). Achim P. Meyer (Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany) and John F. Stein (Department of Physiology, Anatomy & Genetics, University of Oxford, UK). in: Perception, 2016, Vol. 45(3) 265–280

April 30 as final day for retiring the Zimbabwe $100-trillion-dollar bills

April 27th, 2016

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe announced its official intention that April 30, 2016, will be the final day for paying anything—anything at all—to people who turned in the now-decommissioned $100,000,000,000,000 bills, $10,000,000,000,000 bills, $1,000,000,000,000 bills, and old bills of lower denominations. That announcement:

Demonetisation of the Zimbabwean Dollar — The demonetisation of the Zimbabwe dollar which was announced by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development in the 2014 National Budget, as well as, in the Mid-term Fiscal Review, and in the Monetary Policy Statement of January 2015, commenced on 15 June 2015 and ended on 30 September 2015….The Bank is currently working with the Deposit Protection Corporation (DPC) to ensure that account holders whose balances were held with closed banks are paid. DPC is expected to fully pay out these beneficiaries by the end of April 2016. ”


A previous announcement, on June 9, 2015, explained that “Demonetisation is not compensation for the loss of value of the Z$ due to hyper-inflation. It is an exchange process.”

Here are the announced exchange rates for money that people had deposited in banks:

a) Accounts with balances of Zero to Z$175 quadrillion will be paid a flat US$5.

b) Accounts with balances above Z$175 quadrillion will be paid the equivalent value after applying the UN exchange rate of US$1/Z$35 quadrillion or US$1/Z$35,000 (revalued).

Slightly different rates were on offer for “walk-in cash customers”:

Banks will exchange ZW$ cash for US$ equivalent for walk-in cash customers at an exchange rate of Z$250 trillion to US$1 for 2008 note series and Z$250 to US$1 for 2009 note series.

NewsDay published a journalistic account of all this.

The old currency has a celebrated place in history. The 2009 Ig Nobel Prize for mathematics was awarded to the then head of the bank, Dr. Gideon Gono, for giving people a simple, everyday way to cope with a wide range of numbers — from very small to very big — by having his bank print bank notes with denominations ranging from one cent ($.01) to one hundred trillion dollars ($100,000,000,000,000).

Dr. Gono wrote a book explaining why that currency was a good idea that other countries should adopt. The book is Zimbabwe’s Casino Economy — Extraordinary Measures for Extraordinary Challenges, Gideon Gono, ZPH Publishers, Harare, 2008, ISBN 978-079-743-679-4.


The special SMELLY issue of the magazine is out!

April 27th, 2016

The special SMELLY issue (vol. 22, no. 2) of the magazine (the Annals of Improbable Research) is now out! It’s bursting (as are all our issues) with carefully culled, improbable research snippets about everything, from anywhere, more or less. Click on the cover image, below, to see the issue’s table of contents and some of the articles.

This is the second issue of our all-PDF era. We hope you enjoy it, and that you will spread the word to friends and colleagues! There are additional new columns, and we have further tweaked the new design (by the one and only Geri Sullivan) to make it even more comfy to read on smartphones, as well as on larger screens.

If you are a subscriber, you should have received an email letting you know the new issue is available, with directions for downloading your copy.

If you are not yet a subscriber, you can purchase that issue —or subscribe!—on our Gumroad page.

Back issues of the magazine, and tables of contents, are available on the Improbable website.


Special thanks to Lauren Maurer Trew, our bookmaster, for working much of the tech magic that brought the magazine into this new era.

Leadership by a man with a big mouth (Podcast 61)

April 27th, 2016

Does having a big mouth make a man more likely to become a political leader? A research study asked that very question. We discuss it, in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

SUBSCRIBE on Play.it, iTunes, or Spotify to get a new episode every week, free.

This week, Marc Abrahams  —with dramatic readings by Daniel Rosenberg — tells about:

The mysterious John Schedler or the shadowy Bruce Petschek perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The Improbable Research podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that may be good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, on the CBS Play.it web site, and on iTunes and Spotify).